Tag Archives: Anna Pavlova

Anna Pavlova plaque, London

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This is another of those instances where your dedicated sleuth and reporter went the extra mile or two to find what I am willing to wager you would never have found on your own. To look it up on the internet it looks incredibly easy: The Anna Pavlova blue plaque commemorating the home in which the great Russian-born dancer lived for many years in London. You can find plenty of photos of the house. That should make it even easier, no?
No.
You can find an address of 6 Ivy House. You can find references to the former Jewish Cultural Center. There is also an address of 94-96 North End Road. The photos of the imposing house are so distinct it would never occur to you that you could possibly walk right by without noticing it.
But that’s just what I did 3 or 4 times before enlisting the aid of a friendly neighbor who was out hosing down his driveway right next to where I knew I wanted to be – although that wasn’t doing me any good.
“Good morning, sir,” said I. “Hate to bother you at your work!”
“Oh, any time!” he replied.
“I think you must know where I want to go,” said I. “I’m looking for one of your neighbors. Maybe you can tell me.”
“Maybe so, maybe not,” he said with a smile.
“I know she’s right here,” I said, “but I have walked back and forth and up and down your street to no avail. Surely you know where Anna Pavlova lived!”
“Oh! Anna PavlOva,” he said with pleasure and veneration, employing the non-Russian pronunciation of the great ballerina’s name. “Yes, I do think she lived somewhere nearby.”
“It’s a great, big beautiful home,” said I. “Very stately. I shouldn’t be able to miss it, but I surely do every time I walk up and back on this street.”
“I’ll bet that’s because it’s behind a big wall now,” my gardening friend told me. “It was bought by a school and they erected a tall fence in front of it. I believe it’s the next house just up from here.”
I thanked the man for his friendly advice and I headed back up North End Road for the third time at least. And sure enough. There was the fence, behind which arose several nondescript gables (see photo immediately below). Was this it? I walked up to the gate and peered around the corner and – yessiree – there was the house. Not really in all its glory because you really can’t get an angle to look at it from the street. But I finally did realize I had reached my destination. Next up: the plaque. Peering through the gate like a thief on prowl I searched up and down the walls of the house – no plaque was to be seen.
As I contemplated my next move I saw a woman ring a bell and enter the gates seconds later. I resolved to do the same. A kind-voiced young woman came on the line and asked if she could help. I assured her she could. I needed to get inside to find the Anna Pavlova blue plaque. Could she let me in?
“Oh, no. Not now,” she said, almost worried. “Come back in a half an hour. The children are being let out now and we can’t have any strangers crossing paths with them before they’re all gone.”
“A half an hour?” I asked back. “I’m losing daylight and I have several other places to be today,” I pleaded. “I’ve come from Russia. I’m a journalist,” I added, sort of telling the truth. “I’ve come specifically to photograph the plaque. But I don’t see it anywhere.”
“Oh, it’s here,” the kind young lady said. “But it’s behind the fence. You can’t see it.”
“Oh,” I said, getting more and more disappointed.
“Come back in 15 minutes,” she said through the intercom. I’ll try to let you in then.”
I promised her I would and I walked across the street to try to find an angle to photograph the home (see the last photo in the following block for that result). I took a shot or two and, bored, went back to stand by the gate. Although 15 minutes hadn’t passed, I unexpectedly heard the young woman’s voice through the intercom again.
“Sir? Sir?!”
I ran to the door. “Yes?” I said.
“Push on the door,” she told me. “It will open.”
I did and it did. Shortly thereafter, a woman dressed in black came out the front door and headed in my direction. It was the lady from the speaker phone. We exchanged pleasantries then got down to business. The plaque, I was told, was now closed off in a side area behind locked gates. I asked if I could have access – I’d come all the way from Russia. I repeated this information in a whine that employed my best wounded-bird voice. “Oh, I’ll have to ask. I couldn’t make that decision myself,” she said. She went in to ask permission to let me into the hallowed ground and I began photographing the building straight on. If you look at the second photo above you will see the young lady coming back out and trying to run out of the photo before I snapped the shot. God bless her, she had secured permission for me to go inside the holy-of-holies side yard to shoot the plaque. See the second and third photos below for that.
After I snapped those shots we went back out and chatted for a few minutes. I was assured that the school had plans to move the plaque out from its current prison onto a place on the building that would be more visible from the street. There was no fence before the school purchased the property in 2015 – it had been put up as protection for the children, history be damned.

Apparently quite a few items belonging to Pavlova are still present in the house. My friendly acquaintance told me there is often talk about turning one of the rooms into a small Pavlova museum in order to collect all the items in one place. I solemnly confirmed that this would be a wonderful idea – particularly if people could have access to it… In fact, there was something of an exhibition here 12 years ago. A small piece in The Independent tells us about that, suggesting that the home became a Jewish Cultural Center because “Pavlova’s unknown father is thought to have been Jewish.”
Pavlova bought this house in Hampstead Heath – originally built in the 18th century – in 1912. It remained her home until her death in 1931. In fact, this is where she died. I don’t know when the structure was given over to the Jewish Cultural Center, but the majority of references to the building on the internet are to the Jewish center. According to one source, it was purchased by the school – now known as St. Anthony’s School for Girls – for 6.25 million pounds in 2015. To the best of my ability to ascertain, it was called Ivy House 6 when Pavlova lived here. At some point the modern address became 94-96 North End Road, most probably during the tenure of the Jewish Cultural Center. The West Hampstead School of Dance was located in Pavlova’s former home until the property was bought by St. Anthony’s.
Several photographs and even some video of Pavlova in the house and its gardens has been put together in a YouTube short. Another video repeats some of the same footage but includes a very brief, but quite wonderful, sound recording, reportedly the only extant recording that we have of Pavlova’s voice.

 

 

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Russian ballet at the Palace Theatre, London

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The plaque, which you can see at the end of the block of photos below, blithely proclaims that the Palace Theatre  is famed for being the home of London’s longest-running musicals. The hell it is. This venue, located at Cambridge Circus, is famous for being one of the places where Russian ballet established a foothold in Britain in the early 20th century. It was here that Anna Pavlova performed some of her London seasons; here that Nikolai Legat debuted on the London stage; and here where Vaclav Nijinsky unveiled his own company in 1914. In regards to them I understand what is carved in stone over the stage door: “The world’s greatest artistes have passed and will pass through these doors.” But what this has to do with a so-called mentalist like Derren Brown – the house’s occupant (or occupier) when I took these photos earlier this year – I do not know. Surely the timelessness of a gorgeous old place like this is created only by those of the stature of Pavlova, Nijinsky and their like. As for the theatre’s physical appearance, at least in regards to the front facade, it would appear it has not changed much in a century. You can watch a short video of Anna Pavlova dancing a snippet of “The Dying Swan” on YouTube, which begins with a short panorama of the theatre front. Looks very much the same as the shots you see here.
Pavlova performed here at least in 1910 and 1912, and we can even pin one of her performances down to my own birthdate of June 18, in the year 1912, thanks to an old program of that evening’s show which is available for sale for $200 as of this writing. The description of the evening’s fare, incidentally, takes a good deal of the hot air out of my earlier rather pompous claim that the fame of Russian dancers is of more value than that of the other hucksters who may have performed here. Just imagine the show that night, on Tuesday, June 18. Pavlova, the headliner, shared the stage with three comedians, a mime, a comic violinist, a comic juggler, a comic conjurer (Ah! Derren Brown again!), and an ambidextrous caligraphist, among others. Not exactly your sublime evening of high art. In fact, here is a nice description of the kind of entertainment audiences might have seen at the Alhambra Theatre, a Glaswegian counterpart of the Palace, in or around the years 1913 and 1914.
After the overture in the Alhambra the first act was frequently a play, musical revue, ballet, or short opera, all followed by variety with 6-10 turns, and ending with film. Through the Syndicate, entertainers came from all continents – comics, mimists, singers, illusionists, gymnasts, tumblers, instrumentalists, dancers, whistlers, Arabian whirlers, conjurers, memory men, trick cyclists, quartettes, jugglers, and ventriloquists. Dance and ballet came from the Danish classicist Adeline Genee, the Imperial Russian Ballet, America’s Maud Allan in her provocative free-movement, Lydia Kyasht and her Russian corps de ballet, Nicolas Legat’s Russian company, Anna Pavlova and others.”
Be all that as it may, Pavlova’s memory is so closely associated with the Palace that there is speculation about hers being one of two ghosts who continue to haunt the backstage area to this day (for the record, the other is of the Welsh composer and actor Ivor Novello).
We can also focus in tightly on another moment from those long-gone days by perusing an unsigned newspaper review of Pavlova’s April 18, 1910, performance, which appeared in the Daily Mail on April 19:
London – that is to say art and pleasure loving London – has a new sensation which will be discussed as widely and as eagerly as Elektra and the Sicilians, with the one difference that the new topic does not lend itself to argument. Anna Pavlova and Michael Mordkin, ‘Russia’s acknowledged greatest dancers and the famous leaders of the Imperial Russian Ballet,’ who made their debut at the Palace Theatre last night, are the last word in the art of dancing. The perfection of their art cannot be disputed. It is such as to re-establish the supremacy of the traditional ballet style over the so called ‘classic’ dance and its offshoots, of which we have had a very surfeit during the last year or two.
It is impossible to do justice to Anna Pavlova by mere description. Such grace as hers, such litheness of body, and such perfect balance in motion so quick that eyes can scarcely follow it must be seen to be believed. It is not alone the top-like whirling round on tip-toe, ending in a difficult poise that would defy the efforts of an ordinary dancer, even if it were attempted from an attitude of repose; it is none of the conventional tricks of the ballet-dancer that causes wonderment in the dancing of Anna Pavlova and her no less amazing partner, but their extraordinary effects of movement arrested, as it were, in mid-air – a pause, a hesitation that seems to defy the laws of gravity and makes you look instinctively for the wires on which these graceful marionettes must surely be suspended.”

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I must add a few words about Pavlova’s “no less amazing partner” Michael, or Mikhail, Mordkin, with whom Miss Pavlova apparently had a turbulent relationship. I am grateful to the Victoria and Albert Museum website for the following tidbit:
In 1912 Pavlova appeared in the first Royal Variety Performance. She was very competitive and during a curtain call slapped the face of her partner, Michael Mordkin, because she thought he was getting more applause.
The feud between Pavlova and Mordkin was much reported in the press. The pair were a sensation when they appeared together at the Palace Theatre, one of London’s leading music halls, in 1910.
They first appeared in a classical pas de deux, performed with such style and beauty that they took ten curtain calls, an extraordinary number for a music hall. Nothing prepared the audience for what came next.
Gone were Pavlova’s tutu and Mordkin’s ballet costume, gone her pointe shoes. In Greek tunics and sandals, they flung themselves onto the stage in the Autumn Bacchanal, one of the most tempestuous and passionate dances ever staged.”
Nijinsky’s most memorable, if not successful, connection to the Palace comes over just a two-week period in the spring of 1914. After breaking with Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, who had raised him to the status of a living legend, Nijinsky attempted to put together his own troupe with which he planned to tour.  It never happened. Immediately following the two-week run at the Palace, the new company fell apart. A minor detail of that doomed endeavor was that Maurice Ravel’s orchestration of Robert Schumann’s Carnaval, commissioned by Nijinsky, was given its world premiere during the performance of March 2, 1914  – the opening night of the run. Writing in her memoirs, Nijinsky’s sister Bronislawa wrote in some detail about the thought (or lack of it) and preparations that went into the new company. “The performances were to begin on March 2. There were only four and a half weeks to opening night, and Vaslav [her spelling] had not even started the work. To sign a contract with such a short time for preparation seemed to me to be pure folly, but it was too late to talk about it, least of all with Vaslav.” According to Bronislawa, the program for the Saison Nijinsky was to include major pieces such as Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, Le Spectre de la rose, and Nijinsky’s own choreography of Carnaval and Les Sylphides among smaller dance numbers.
Nikolai Legat first danced abroad with Anna Pavlova no later than 1908. You can see a photo of the two in Swan Lake from that year when they toured Europe. Legat, however, although he enjoyed dancing abroad and did so for many years, remained in Russia at the Imperial School where he built his reputation as a teacher and choreographer. Still, Diaghilev convinced him to come West and take over as the ballet master of the Ballets Russes in 1923. Legat left to found his own school in London in 1926. I don’t readily find specific dates for Legat performing at the Palace, although there is a posed photo of Anna Pavlova performing in Legat’s choreography for Les Coquetteries de Columbine which premiered at the Palace on April 15, 1912.

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Anna Pavlova statue, London

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This may be one of the curioser monuments I have written about. I use Alice’s diction because this statue honoring the great Russian-born ballerina Anna Pavlova, rather like Alice, disappeared for many a year before making its return in 2006.
Why Pavlova and why the Victoria?
Well, it’s a rather long story that begins around 1832 when a hotel and tavern were built on this spot. It was turned into the Royal Standard Music Hall in 1850 which was then demolished and rebuilt a couple of times. We are interested in the year 1911 when the new owner Alfred Butt engaged the architect Frank Matcham  to build the fabulous new Victoria Palace Theatre here for the princely sum of ₤12,000. In honor of Pavlova, whose first London performances were produced by Butt, the impresario erected a gilded statue on a pedestal atop the theatre’s cupola. Pavlova, who began her career in St. Petersburg and danced a short while with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Europe, left Russia and settled in England in 1912. Thereafter she traveled the world tirelessly, bringing truly great ballet to places that had never seen it, including Australia and South America. She often performed in concert-like revues, the likes of which would have been popular at Butt’s Victoria Palace.
If several websites are to be trusted, Pavlova so hated the idea of the statue on top of the theatre that she refused ever to look at it. So did it offend her superstitious nature that she insisted on closing the curtains in her cab whenever she would pass by.
Really? Not just one little peek? One little drawback of the curtains, just once?
The original statue, created, as far as I can determine, by the architect Matcham, stood atop the theatre for 28 years. It was still there even as Pavlova, who was born in 1881, died of pleurisy while on tour in The Hague in 1931.  She was three weeks short of her 50th birthday at the time. The story is that doctors said she would not survive without an operation, but they added that she would never dance again should she agree to surgery. Famously, she told her doctor, “If I can’t dance then I’d rather be dead.” And die she did, shortly thereafter.
When World War II began in 1939, fears of what might happen to the statue during a bombing raid caused it to be removed from the top of the Victoria Palace Theatre – and it was promptly lost. Or, at least, it was by the end of the war. I rather like a comment on one web page devoted to the statue: “It is not known whether it is in someone’s garden or was turned to wartime military use, such as bullets.” The latter sounds more probable, but the former is more intriguing.
The Victoria stood forlorn, without its gilded decoration for 63 years, when, in 2006, the sculptor Hary Franchetti was commissioned to create a replica of the original. He did so based on a photo or photos of the original.

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As for Anna not wanting to see the statue, in fact, she would have had a hard time catching even a passing glimpse of herself. You can see from the longer shots here that the statue is anything but readily visible. What you see first are rays of sun glinting off of it as you approach from the direction of Buckingham Palace. It’s only when you approach the building, and when you train a zoom lens on the golden object up there, that you really begin to see the statue.
This entire area, not only the space where many theatres have stood, seems to have a tradition of reconstruction, and that is surely being honored these days. Everything around Victoria Station (for the Victoria Palace stands directly across from the great railway station) is an utter and total mess at present. You can’t get anywhere without detouring four or five times. Long tunnels of construction pathways guard your head and body as you meander through mazes of cross-paths. Cranes, construction sites and scaffolding tower over your head at every step. Signs with arrows pointing every which-way make it fairly certain that you have no idea where to go to get anywhere. The theatre itself is blocked off by construction and I never did figure out how to approach it. It is up and working, however, so some people are figuring that out. It is the home to Billy Elliot the Musical, and has been since 2005.
The Pavlova statue is frustrating, though intriguing. The reality is that you really cannot see it. Not in any detail, anyway. Even if all the construction were to disappear overnight, you would still be very, very far away, no matter how close you come to the theatre. It is said that the statue is approximately twice life size. For one, like me, who wandered around peering up at the statue from various angles for at least a half an hour, that comes as astonishing news. One thinks of the statue as a tiny, toy-like thing. Sure, you understand it’s not a toy way up there, but I was not the least prepared to hear that it is twice life size.
As any source that knows its dance can tell you, the statue depicts Pavlova in a classical tutu while standing in the arabesque position.  Here is what Wikipedia has to say about that:
In dance (particularly ballet), arabesque (French: [aʁabɛsk]; literally, ‘in Arabic fashion’) is a body position in which a dancer stands on one leg (the supporting leg) with the other leg (the working leg) turned out and extended behind the body, with both legs held straight. In classical ballet, an arabesque can be executed with the supporting leg en pointe or demi pointe or with foot flat on the floor.”
If you wish see the statue for yourself, the official address is: Victoria Palace, Victoria Street, London, SW1E 5EA. Or just find Victoria Station, turn around in the other direction and look up. That is assuming they haven’t erected a new skyscraper since I was there.

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